Suspected "terrorists" killed in a raid in northwest China's Muslim-dominated Xinjiang region earlier this year had been planning an attack on the Olympics, a top official told state media Sunday.(Report: O.Winspear)
Suspected "terrorists" killed in a raid in northwest China's Muslim-dominated Xinjiang region earlier this year had been planning an attack on the Olympics, a top official said Sunday.
In separate comments, another high-level official from the same region said authorities had Friday foiled an attempted "terrorist attack" on a passenger jet flying from the regional capital Urumqi to Beijing.
They were speaking on the sidelines of the current national parliamentary session at a briefing reported by the state news agency Xinhua.
Two militants were killed and 15 arrested in the January 27 raid in Urumqi, capital of the vast region bordering several Central Asian republics, according to the official Chinese account.
China also says five police officers were wounded in the raid when three homemade grenades were thrown at them.
"Obviously, the gang had planned an attack targeting the Olympics," added Wang Lequan, Xinjiang's Communist Party chief, linking the raid for the first time to the August 8-24 Games being held in Beijing.
China's police chief had warned last year that terrorism posed the biggest threat to the Beijing Olympics but this is believed to be the first time the authorities have reported a specific threat against the Games.
Rights groups have consistently accused Chinese authorities of repression in Xinjiang, with some saying Beijing uses the "war on terror" as a cover to brutally silence anyone who expresses opposition to, or anger with, Chinese rule in the strategically vital region.
The gang had collaborated with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an obscure grouping that is listed by the United Nations as an international terrorist group, according to Xinhua.
"The Olympic Games slated for this August is a big event, but there are always a few people who conspire to commit sabotage. It is no longer a secret now," said Wang.
"Those terrorists, saboteurs and secessionists are to be battered resolutely, no matter what ethnic group they are from," said Wang, who is a member of the Communist Party's politburo.
Meanwhile Nur Bekri, chairman of the Xinjiang regional government, told reporters about what appeared to be a planned hijacking Friday.
He said a China Southern Airlines plane was forced to land in Lanzhou, the capital of neighbouring Gansu province, because "some people were attempting to create an air disaster."
The crew stopped the would-be attackers and all passengers and crew were safe, he added.
Nur did not elaborate, saying only that authorities were investigating "who the attackers are, where they are from and what's their background," Xinhua reported.
"But we can be sure that this was a case intending to create an air crash," he said, also on the sidelines of the National People's Congress.
An official with the Xinjiang regional government said the suspects were in custody in Lanzhou but did not reveal how many there were, Xinhua reported.
"I haven't heard about this incident," China Southern's board secretary Su Liang told AFP when asked to comment.
The Xinjiang region of 20 million people is largely populated by ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities, who have traditionally opposed Beijing's rule and clamoured for greater autonomy.
Delegates to the ongoing parliamentary session have promised to step up a crackdown on ethnic unrest, separatism and religious extremism in Xinjiang.
Eighteen alleged terrorists were killed and 17 captured in an army raid in January 2007 on what Beijing said was an ETIM training camp.
East Turkestan often refers to two short-lived republics established in Xinjiang by the Muslim Uighur minority, one in the early 1930s, the other in the second half of the 1940s.
Right groups have criticised China for not allowing outsiders to probe the circumstances surrounding the raid in late January.
"(Chinese) authorities must allow independent scrutiny of any evidence they have for the claims they are making," Uighur American Association president Rebiya Kadeer said in a statement late last month.
Date created : 2008-03-09